Blue Ink Flowed

Edna watched the fly buzz around her kitchen with all the intensity of a warrior spying out the movements of the enemy. Finally, the devil’s minion dared to land on her clean counter. Ah ha! With a victorious slap, she smashed it. Barbarian exultation surged through her.

Her phone chime, a song her father had loved, drew her attention to the living room. She scampered to her work desk and swiped up the phone, one hand still brandishing the swatter in case of any enemy retribution.

He sister’s name flashed on the screen. A groan erupted from Edna’s middle. She pressed the phone to her ear, her gut twisting. If she had to hear one more rendition of how Tabitha’s recent fling, Melvin, used her and dumped her and how men were all cheats and liars, she’d— “Yeah, honey, what’s going on?”

“Hey. Just wanted to let you know that Dave was in an accident over the weekend. Drunk driving.”

Edna’s heart stopped beating. She was sure of it. “The kids?”

“They’re fine. He was out with his buddies, and the kids were with a sitter. Actually, he picked a good one this time. Real responsible girl. She called me right away and then found Dave’s mom’s number and sent her all the info from the police. I went over, got the kids and figured I’d let Dave die on the emergency room table. He deserved it, right?”

Edna wasn’t sure if she had pulled the chair out, but she was grateful when her behind hit the firm seat, and she didn’t land on the floor. “Is he…did he—”

A strange tone entered Tabitha’s voice, one Edna had never heard before. “No, he’s just got a few scratches. But it scared the hell out of him. And it’s going on his record. His boss called and told him that he’s fired. The firm can’t allow this kinda stuff.”

Silence.

Edna swallowed and took a deep breath. “So what now?”

“Ya know. I hate the guy. He was always a jerk. Well, after a couple good years…he revealed that he was a jerk.”

Edna rubbed her temple. Here it comes… She waited.

“But funny thing, he started crying. Real tears. His mom came and got him, and I went by this morning to check in.”

Edna felt waves of turbulent water splashing about her ears. “What about letting him die on the table?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. That’s what I thought. At first. How I felt. But then, you know, turns out that Marvin has cancer…something with his pancreas. He didn’t tell me because he was afraid I’d dump him.”

A pad of paper sat squarely in her desk corner. Edna grabbed it and flicked a pen point down. If one was facing crazy, might as well doodle. She murmured, “And so…”

“So, it hit me, that perhaps, I might hate the men in my life for the wrong reason.”

The doodle became a black storm cloud. “I’m not sure I’m following.”

“Well, Dave drank like an idiot when he was with friends, but that’s not why we got a divorce. I divorced him because he was so selfish. He never thought about me…not really. He just lived his life with me in it. And then, you know, Marvin was the same. So I figured, all guys are blithering fools.”

A painful cramp seized Edna’s hand. She switched the phone to the right and continued the parade of raindrops from the storm cloud with her left. Wobbly raindrops…but she didn’t care. She exhaled. “And so?”

“So, as I watched Dave meltdown in his mom’s house and how his mom just shook her head and put her arm around him, I thought…I’d do that if it was one of my boys. I’d love him even though he acted like a complete jerk. And I thought of Melvin getting those test results and never telling me…because…you know…he figured I wouldn’t really care about him. I’d just be mad because he was sick.”

Silence stretched over the miles between Colorado and Illinois.

Edna didn’t dare breath. Her hand froze. The raindrops had become a river at the bottom of the page.

“So, it dawned on me. Maybe, I hate ‘em because they remind me of me.”

A splash brought the river to life and blue ink flowed. Edna wiped her eyes. She swallowed the ache in her throat. “It’s hard to love like you want to be loved.”

“Yeah. That’s what I think. Kinda what dad told us before he died. Remember how he wanted that song? It irked me because I thought it was so stupid. But the words spoke to me today. Ya, know…letting go of the bad and keeping the good.”

Edna sniffed, laid the pen aside, and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “I remember.”

“Sorta like what you’ve been doing with me all along, eh?”

The river became a torrent. Edna wrapped her arm around her face and stifled a sob. After a monumental struggle, she lifted her head and found her voice. “I’ve tried. Though I haven’t always succeeded. “

“But, at least, you tried.”

After the last bit of conversation and a final, ‘talk later,’ Edna laid the phone on the table and stood. She stared at the pad of dribbled blue ink. It didn’t look like the original anymore. She ought to crumple it and toss it away.

A fly landed on the paper. Pure instinct incarnate, Edna grabbed the swatter and lifted her hand. This devil deserved to die.

But the picture didn’t.

She waved her hand and the miniature demon flew off to annoy her another day.

She laid the swatter aside, picked up the picture and taped it to the refrigerator. It wouldn’t last forever. But it would outlast the flies.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

That’s How It Goes

“God, how I love my life.” The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the green park with purple and pink flowerbeds, brown benches, and scurrying squirrels, looked as gorgeous as any storybook garden. “So why is my heart so torn and ragged?”

The college buildings rose up before Victoria’s eyes, a U-shaped arrangement of stone structures built in imitation of the grand European universities. A tower with a clock set inside a green cupola bore testimony to strong eyes. She couldn’t see the hands, much less the numbers. But it didn’t matter. Her son’s campus tour would take three hours, so she had plenty of time before the long trek back home.

Home?

Out of five kids, Thomas was the youngest. And now it was his turn to spread his wings and fly away. The older four had fulfilled their destiny—college, good jobs, and two were married now. The second child, the only girl, had had a baby last winter.

Victoria was happy for them. She was thrilled that Thomas had found a college that he really liked and was eager to start classes in the fall. Everything was terrific. Wonderful. Blessed.

So why did an aching depression choke her soul?

A white mini-van pulled into the parking lot, and three kids tumbled out. A toddler scampered forward into the arms of young woman…a big sister? Victoria’s heart clenched. The father, thirtyish with greying temples, and the mother, wearing a long summer dress, joined the clutch around the young woman. Hugs and hellos and comments mixed together into a bright cacophony of delight.

Victoria felt the tear before she realized she was crying. Why on earth was she upset? Couldn’t she be happy for this family reunion? Even though it wasn’t hers…and never would be again?

Terry had passed away four years ago. Despite the agony of loss, she had shouldered her responsibilities and raised the kids as they had always planned. And the kids had surpassed their parents’ every hope and dream.

But she had never looked any further…to a life beyond the kids. Beyond marriage. Beyond her responsibilities. Once Thomas moved into the dorm and out of the house, he would live his own life. Have meals with friends instead of with her. Do his own laundry. Well, most of the time. And have fun elsewhere.

Would home be home anymore?

Certainly, there would be get-togethers. Family dinners. Holidays. But her heart sank at the thought of it all. How her eldest wanted to spend last Christmas with his wife’s family. Of course, it was her turn. And the grandbaby—grandbabies eventually—would have to be shared as well. She couldn’t very well snatch the little ones and relive her happy motherhood.

No. She couldn’t really.

The happy family moved off toward the main entrance, a celebratory look on all their faces, except for one. A teen girl. She moped. In a bad mood probably. Victoria wanted to grab the child and shake her, get into her face and make her listen. You’ve only got a little time. Don’t waste it! Don’t ruin the day for the others. Life is so damn short.

The father took the teen under his wing as they went through the doorway, and the child peered up with adoring eyes. The father glanced away, a cloud passing over his face. He knew. A shadow loomed.

But distant laughter broke the spell, the door shut, and Victoria was left with the birds. She reached into her bag and pulled out a novel. Some mystery or another. Anything to distract her thoughts. To make the hours pass so she could go home again and live…just a while longer…

An old woman toddled near, hobbling with the aid of a cane. She stopped when she saw Victoria.

Matching benches stood across from each other. Victoria looked over. A large splotch of bird poop marred the other one. She grimaced and scooted aside. There was room after all.

The woman nodded in gratitude and inched her way near.

Victoria stood and helped her sit, suddenly terrified that the frail body would slip and break a bone, and she’d have to call 9-1-1 and…

Once settled, the lady chuckled. “I used to be a long distance runner. Never guess it now.”

Victoria eyed the spare figure with new appreciation. “Really? How wonderful! I mean; that must’ve been very exciting.”

“Ronda the Runner…that was my name. I was something of a star here…long years ago. There have all my trophies in their wall cabinet, awards and such. I donated them when I sold my house. No point in keeping them. I know what I did. Memories are glorious…for a while. Then it’s time to let go.”

A sigh erupted from Victoria’s aching heart. She gazed at the flowers. A sudden image of ice and snow—the park covered in frozen death—enveloped her imagination. She heard her voice before she realized she had spoken. “And go where?”

Rhonda turned, her gaze sweeping over Victoria like a buyer at an auction. “Where ever life takes you. If you’re still above ground…make the best of it.”

“But when your heart hurts like it is being ripped in two? What then? When your old life is over and you have no new life to start?”

Rhonda waved a wrinkled hand and peered into the distance. “I remember…the day my sister was killed in a car crash. We were twins. It was like my body had burned with hers in the flames.” She peered at her hands. “When I looked in the mirror, I saw a living being…but vacant eyes. Like I had died with her.” With a grunt, Rhonda straightened. “But it was a lie. I wasn’t dead. Rita was dead. I had to discover how to make a new life. Grow a new identity without my twin.”

Tears flooded Victoria’s eyes, and an ache swelled in her throat. She couldn’t have spoken if the Queen of England implored her to.

A bell tolled three times. Another half hour and Thomas would be ready to leave.

Rhonda patted Victoria’s knee. “Lost everyone…or just someone special?”

“Everyone special…one at a time.

“That’s how it goes…if you live long enough.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Not your choice. You could try to cheat. But that’d just pass things along down the road. You’re going to face loss and misunderstanding and death…in a million forms before the end.” She chuckled. “You know what they used to say to me during the long practice runs when my whole body ached? ‘No pain, no gain.’” She waved away a passing insect. “Stupid phrase. It isn’t the pain that teaches you…it’s knowing that it won’t last…that it’s just a part of something bigger. Something better. I never expected to really win anything. Not after Rita’s death. But I did. I won medal after medal. I learned I could still love my sister…even when I couldn’t see her or feel her. I endured. And now my great grandson is starting his career as a runner. Wonderful boy. I’m happy for him.”

“So you married…and had a family…and they moved on… And your husband?”

“Cancer got him fifteen tears ago.”

Victoria stared at the ground.

A sparrow flittered on the grass before them, hopping about, as if doing a happy dance.

Rhonda shrugged. “Well, I best start back now…it’ll take me a while to get to the reception area. They’re having a little party for him.” She wavered to her feet.

Victoria stood and reached out. “You want a hand? I can walk back with you. It’ll be time to pick up my son soon.”

“If you’d like. We can share the path before we go our separate ways. Got to be glad for these little things.”

At the doorway, Thomas waved at his mother.

Victoria let go of Rhonda’s hand and watched the old woman unceremoniously disappear into a bright interior.

Thomas grinned. “Helping old ladies, Mom?”

Victoria took her son’s arm, the dull ache settling into calm acceptance. “The other way around, more like.” She wanted to tell him—”Don’t laugh, my boy. It’ll be your turn, soon enough.” But that would be cruel. Now was his time to smile and be glad.

A fresh wave of love comforted her soul. She could be happy for him.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter  https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

So What’ll It Be?

Margery stared at her reflection in the mirror and wondered if the hairstylist could read her thoughts. Naw…

Good thing, too.

At the moment, she was battling a strong desire to call her boss and quit her job. And then there was the issue about dating three guys at once. Who knew that would get so complicated? Eeney…meeney…miney…moe…

“So what’ll it be?”

Margery lifted her gaze and met Shasta’s piercing blue eyes.

“Same as usual. Just a trim.”

Shasta snipped the scissors, her eyes fixed on Margery. “I mean…the choice you’re trying to make. Come to a decision yet?”

A shiver ran down Margery’s spine. “Whatda’ you mean? What choice?”

“Look, honey, people come in here every day wanting a new look, a fresh style, a whole passel of unrealistic expectations. Hey, I cut hair, you know? But you, you come in and just want a trim…but I can see in your eyes…you’re contemplating something serious. Deep. You know what I mean?”

Yep. Margery knew. Uh huh. She had been reading self-help books and posts with themes like “Managing Your Life, So You Can Fall In Love Without Regret.” But even though they often made sense, she had a hard time applying popular wisdom in her particular orbit.

Shasta started to snip. Apparently, she didn’t need answers to cut hair.

A woman with a model’s figure, holes in her jeans in all the right places, a glorious tan, a tank top that could knock Miss Universe off her pedestal, and a perfect pout swung onto the chair next to Margery.

Jealousy never reared its ugly head. A sudden desire to evaporate—maybe.

Shasta snipped her fingers in the newcomer’s direction. “Be with you in a minute. You’re early.”

The walking advertisement for beauty shrugged. “I’ve got nothing better to do. Thought I’d bug you for a while.” She dropped her head onto her sculptured hand. “Get so lonely sometimes…you know?”

Margery strangled the scream rising in her throat. She just managed to eke out the words, “Lonely? You?” She let her eyes roll over the woman’s figure to highlight her point.

Shasta tapped Margery’s shoulder. “Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover, hon. Gale here deals with a lot.”

Margery lowered her eyes and clasped her hands. “Sorry. That was rude. I just figured that with your body…lots of guys…”

“I try too hard. Scares men silly. Actually, I’ve got a degree in social work and a minor in Spanish, so I have a good job, and I make friends easy enough. I dunno…I just can’t seem to keep things going over the long haul. People get too serious or move away…or have a crisis of some kind.”

Shasta tapped Margery’s head to get her to tilt it to one side. “It’s this dang modern technology. Everybody’s so plugged in they forget to touch base…and they lose what’s really important.”

Gale wrinkled her nose like a rabbit about to sneeze. “That’s the trendy answer. But really, it’s the same ol’ same ol’. People don’t pay attention to anyone else. They want everyone to pay attention to them.”

Margery glanced in the mirror and stared into her own eyes. Yep. Convicted. She might as well have a sign with a number on it hanging around her neck. Though most prison photos didn’t look this good. She pursed her lips. Whoa. For a second there, she actually looked hot.

With a nudge, Shasta made it clear that her job was done.

Margery stood and brushed off her shoulders.

Gale slipped to the edge of her seat.

Shasta held up a finger. “Hang on one sec while I sweep up this mess. She reached for her broom and began to tidy up.

Gale climbed to her feet and faced Margery. “You’re a pretty gal. I bet you don’t get lonely.”

Margery ran her fingers through her hair, shaking off the cut ends. “Funny, but I do. Or at least, I get bewildered. If only someone really understood me…” She glanced from Shasta to Gale. “But that’s not really anyone else’s job, is it?”

Shasta laughed and dumped the dustpan full of clipped hair into the trash. “You know how it is…we search for what we’re afraid to find cause we love the chase more.”

Gale plopped down onto the waiting chair as Margery pulled a couple bills out of her wallet and laid them on the table.

Shasta snipped her scissors. “What’ll you have today? A whole new look or—”

Gale glanced at Margery. “What did she have?”

“Just a trim.”

“Then give me a trim. It’s time I stick with something for once in my life.”

With a nod and a wave, Margery turned and strode out the door. The sun shone and the breeze rippled her hair. She didn’t need to look in a mirror to see that she looked almost exactly the same as when she went in.

She grinned. But then again, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

The Difference Between Us

Auden stared at his friend through narrowed eyes. “You broke up over what?”

Delano shrugged. “It was a snail that started it. My first insightful clue into her real personality. But it took a Tsunami to really clarify things.”

Auden harrumphed as he lifted a log from the truck bed and carried it to the neat stack. He fit it carefully into place.

Delano laid long pieces on top, like a kid arranging his toys on a high shelf.

Auden cleared his throat as he ambled to the truck bed. “You wanna clarify that?”

An insulated coffee mug sat in the cup holder in the front seat. Delano reached through the open window and pulled it out, took a long swig, and eyed his friend. “Well, when she screamed and promptly fainted at the sight of a snail I saved from being utterly and literally crushed, I knew that she and I weren’t seeing nature from the same perspective. “

Auden swished wood chips from the truck bed and slammed the back end shut. He chewed his lip and then cleared his throat. “And the Tsunami?”

“When they put that alert out after the earthquake…you remember, last week…that big 7 pointer with the epicenter in the middle of the ocean and all those warnings went off?”

Auden shook his head in disbelief. “You can take a thought and drag it out beyond all reason.”

“Don’t get huffy. That little gal didn’t even know what a Tsunami was. She thought I was mispronouncing pastrami and confusing the issue with some kinda food poisoning alert.”

With a snort, Auden pulled his coffee mug from the car and twisted the lid. He sat on an upturned stump, sipped, and rubbed his dirt-smeared chin with the back of his hand. “You have a long, boring history with women, my friend. Always the same thing. They’re wonderful, gorgeous, funny, kind, generous, spirited, loving, and the best thing to come along…until…”

“Hey, I’m not seeing anyone else.”

“But you’re thinking about it. I know that look in your eye.”

“What if? No fault in finding someone better suited to my tastes. Someone I can really hit on all cylinders and feel comfortable with.”

A squirrel scampered down a maple tree, eyed the two men, turned tail, and scampered back up the tree, chattering as it went.

Auden took another long swig and pointed his index finger at Delano. “Not a problem normally, except you’re never satisfied, man. Problem with you is you want to make a life-altering commitment without ever altering your life. You want a woman to fit perfectly with you, but you’ll never budge an inch to fit with her.”

Delano raised his hands in mock surrender. “Hey, I’ve made huge sacrifices for the women in my life.”

Auden recapped his cup and tossed it into the truck cab. “You pay for dinner and take the lady dancing a few times. Buddy, you don’t know the meaning of sacrifice.”

Irritation flashed in Delano’s eyes. He poured the dregs of his coffee on the ground, shook the empty cup, slapped the cap back on, and popped it back into the cup holder. “You’re such an expert, huh?”

“I got dumped by a woman with the exact same mentality as you…makes me insightful.”

Delano shrugged, the fury fading from his eyes. “She didn’t understand you. It was her loss.”

“Yeah. That’s what I tell myself. Except for one thing.”

Delano stumped over to the wood stack and shifted a log for a tighter fit. He grabbed his gloves and slapped them against his thigh. “We better get back. There’s a storm coming in tonight.”

Auden nodded and headed around the truck. He strapped on his belt and started the truck as Delano slid into place.

Delano sniffed as he buckled in. “What thing?”

Auden sighed. “I would’ve moved heaven and earth to make things work with her.”

With a puff of air, Delano dropped his head back onto the headrest. “You don’t think any of…well…none of mine really cared that much.”

Pressing his foot on the accelerator, the tires spit gravel, and Auden sped onto the main road. “Comforting thought, buddy, but not necessarily true.”

Delano closed his eyes.

His hands clenching the steering wheel, Auden glanced aside. “Funny thing, Delano. You’d never treat me like that. So I can’t get too mad at you.”

Delano sat up and leaned forward. “But you’re my friend, man. I’d never hurt you.”

“Yeah, I know. And there’s the difference between us.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

 

If You Want To

Edith never had any intention of painting her forearm olive green. It just sorta happened to happen. She stood under the afternoon sun and stared at the husky built man before her with utter defiance seething through her pores.

Aden only laughed.

“For your information, I was helping my son spray paint his crossbow.” Edith flicked her finger toward the woods behind the man. “He wants to blend in with nature. Makes perfect sense to me.”

Shaking his head, Aden strolled across the grass to a camp chair set before a fire pit. “His idea makes sense. Your arm on the other hand… Don’t you ever read directions?”

Edith stomped across the yard to the brooder house. “I read them. But they never mentioned anything about accidentally brushing your arm against freshly painted crossbows.”

Aden plunked down on the folding chair before the flickering fire, stretched, and leaned back. “I can’t leave you alone for a few hours without some kind of mishap or another.”

Edith stopped at the chick house door and considered her retort, but her eldest son, Cal, strode forward carrying a load of wood and dumped it at the base of the fire pit. “This should keep us for a while.” He peered at her arm. “Hey, what happened to—?”

Edith waved him off. “Don’t ask. I was just helping Nick with the manly arts of crossbow decoration—something you could’ve been doing—big brother.”

Cal blanched, his gaze flickering to Aden. “Hey, I mowed the lawn this morning, straightened the barn door, and turned on the outdoor well pump.” The young man crossed his arms in an attitude of defiance.

“And he got us an armload of wood. I’d say the kid has earned his pay for the day.” Aden gave Cal a nod of approval.

Edith shot Aden a sneer. “Unlike some people…”

Aden’s grin widened. “I’m here on vacation; remember? You’re the one who said that country life would relax me…take all the tension outta my overstressed body.” He clasped his hands behind his head. “Well, I’m relaxing. And you’re right, I’m not feeling a particle of stress at the moment.”

Edith rubbed her forehead. He had her, and she knew that he knew, that he had her. How could she admit, even to herself, that she had been entertaining fantasies of leaving her to-do list in the dust as they played games of volleyball or went to the movies? She glanced at the half-mowed yard and sighed. “I gotta take care of these chicks, or they’re going to expire, and we’ll have to eat pork chops all winter.”

Cal nudged Aden. “Want something cold to drink? I’m going in for a soda; I can bring one out.”

Aden nodded. “Sounds good.” He grinned as he met Edith’s gaze.

Edith swung on her heel and smothered a string of naughty words.

~~~

As the sun sank below the horizon, painting the summer field crimson and sienna, Aden stacked an array of used paper plates and tossed them on the low burning embers. He collected four crushed soda cans and lined them on the nearby picnic bench.

Edith watched his slow, deliberate motions as if viewing them from Mars. Her whole body ached in weariness, though it was a pleasant ache, like a drug-induced state of utter relaxation. Her body could take no more, so she simply had to give in to rest. As she licked the last crumb of chocolate cake off her upper lip, her eyes meandered over his muscled arms. “Uh, oh. You’re working… I thought that was against the rules.”

Aden chuckled. “It’s not work if you want to do it. I happen to like stacking paper plates and lining up soda cans.” He dragged his camp chair near hers and plopped down, the fabric straining against his weight. He lifted her limp hand and caressed her fingers. “You know, not all physical exertion is work.”

Edith groaned. “Don’t play with my mind.”

“It’s not your mind I was thinking about…”

Edith forced her body into an upright position and stared at Aden. “You’ve been here the whole weekend, and you’re clearly feeling better.”

Aden nodded, his gaze focused on the horizon. “That’d be putting it mildly.”

“Good.” With a sigh, Edith leaned forward and clasped her hands. “You know, I only want what’s best for you. But it never dawned on me that for us…I have to want what’s best for me as well. All work and no play makes Edith a grumpy girl.”

Aden sighed.

Edith pushed through her hesitation. “When I visit, you work like a madman to manage your job and keep me and the boys entertained. When you come here, I run the situation in reverse.”

A hound dog ambled over and nudged its nose into Aden’s lap.

“Seems like there should be a happy medium somewhere, doesn’t there?” Aden rubbed the dog’s head, his gaze wandering to the first stars blinking in the firmament. “Maybe we should do some projects together?”

Like a puppet yanked by invisible cords, Edith flopped back onto her chair, a boulder pressing on her shoulders. “Like Habitat for Humanity sort of thing?”

Aden snorted, rose to his feet, and stepped around the dog. He scooped the cans into an empty box. “No. Well, maybe down the road we could do something like that. But in the meantime, I could help you here, and you could help me at my place. Seems silly to be always trying to entertain each other when we’ve got more work than any single person can do.”

“It’s not work if you do it together? Is that what you mean?”

Aden stepped behind Edith’s chair and rubbed her shoulders. “I watched you scurry about this place like a rabbit running from a fox. Cal’s a great kid and even Nick helps out. But I couldn’t help but wonder—am I running through my days, rather than living my life?”

Warm peace seeped into Edith’s body. “Join the club. Human beings need to justify our existence…one way or another.”

“Though pleasant distractions also work well to pass the time.” He rubbed Edith shoulders a little harder.

Cal stepped into the faint circle of glowing light. “Hey, hate to break up your fun, but it looks like Nick might have stopped up the sink. Something about washing the leftover instant potatoes down the drain.”

Edith slapped her forehead. “Oh, Lord. I knew I should’ve made baked beans.”

Aden stepped away from Edith and clapped Cal on the shoulder. “Come on, kid, I’ll show you a new trick. It’s called plumbing with potatoes.”

Cal snorted and marched alongside Aden, his gaze focused on the kitchen light ahead, his smile widening.

Edith rose with a groan. In a state of happy exhaustion, she peered at the gloriously star-speckled sky and shook her head. Her life rotated with the universe—work, rest, and plumbing with potatoes.

She laughed.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter  https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Surprised Everyone

Marge sat in the corner near the window and let her mind wander. Not that it didn’t usually wander these days. Old memories ran riot over her soul and left her empty and depressed. If only life wasn’t so dreary, that would be a nice surprise.

Three CNAs strode into the nearly empty dining room. They started clearing away the last of the lunch dishes, pulling off tablecloths, scrubbing down the tables, and rearranging the condiments in preparation for the next meal.

Sitting hunched in her wheelchair and half hidden by a leafy palm tree, Marge rested her head on her good hand and watched the interaction. She knew each person by name since she made a point of paying attention. Made the place a little more human, if not humane.

The tall guy, Jamie, wearing a silver earring and sporting a series of tattoos on his left arm grinned at the little lady, Lula, with dark skin, serious muscles, and a perpetual “Don’t mess with me” look in her eyes. The older man, Reggie, with a grey ponytail and easy going demeanor, chuckled at the other two.

“You two never quit. I swear, if you both get to heaven, they’ll have to put you in different corners just so the angles can get some rest.”

Lula snorted. “Who said anything about getting to heaven? Heck, I’d be happy to stay out of the hothouse…but I don’t expect any special treatment. Besides, I’d be bored silly hanging out with angle types. I’m just not comfortable around clouds and all that—”

With an expert flick of his wrist, Jamie pulled off a stained tablecloth and tossed it onto a rolling table at his side. He nodded like a sage professor encouraging a slow student. “Yeah, you’d probably beat up the angles and fall through the clouds, missy. Sides, God’s probably doing something more fun. Bet he’s got friends all over the universe. Just making the rounds could take eons.”

Reggie wiped down the salt and pepper shakers, straightened, and then rubbed the small of his back. “Jesus has friends, but he’s with his Father…not playing games. Think of all the messed up people who die every day. God, he’s probably worn out listening to all the complaining and whining. You seriously think people go from being screwed up here to being perfect over there?” He shoved a chair in place with a grunt. “Doubt it.”

Her lids grew heavy; Marge closed her eyes. Her mom’s face rose in her mind. Such a kind woman…always thinking of others, except when she was drinking. Then she wasn’t so kind. Died peacefully though. No struggle. Just sort of expired. Not like her dad. Marge shut the last image from her mind and swallowed back bile. She opened her eyes again.

Jamie was laughing.

Marge frowned as she scanned the scene. What—?

Reggie was staring at Lula through flashing eyes. He pointed his finger. “I’m a good Christian Baptist, and I know what scripture teaches. You, my girl, don’t believe in anything. You don’t even know God…so—”

“If I recollect right, Jesus hated righteous old guys throwing everyone into hell.”

Jamie lifted his hands and stepped between the two. “Hey, now. Make love, not war. You know my motto…Jesus loves everyone…sinner and saints alike. We just have to love each—”

Lula shook her head and smoothed down a fresh tablecloth. “Yeah, right. You love everyone…how many boyfriends did you go through last month, stud?”

Jamie squared his shoulders, his face turning dark red. “Cruel, girl. Real cruel.”

Lula flung her hands on her hips. “As I see it, you’re cruel to yourself, buddy. Don’t get on me for saying things straight out. You go from manic on Friday to suicidal on Monday. Don’t expect me to think that’s healthy.”

Enough was enough. Marge cleared her throat.

Three pairs of eyes widened as they fixed on the crippled woman.

Using her good hand, Marge tapped the arm of the wheelchair. The disease that was killing her left her with little strength and even less mobility. She could barely lift her voice. “You all got different gods.”

Reggie’s gaze slid over to Jamie who swung his gaze from Lula to Reggie. Lula tromped over to the wheelchair. “We didn’t see you there, Ms. Henderson. Hope we didn’t disturb a nap or something.”

Marge tipped her head. “Naw. Just remembering. Wondering…”

Lula caressed Marge’s arm. “Bet you got all sorts of happy thoughts to take you back…”

Marge waved her good hand. “Not enough.” She gripped Lula’s arm. “Make some good memories…for yourself and others. You may never have another chance.”

Lula maneuvered the chair away from the window. Her voice rose high and tight, “You got that right, Ms. Henderson. You’re a right smart woman.” She circled around the two men. “I’ll take her back to her room. Time for her meds.”

Reggie nudged Jamie’s arm. “Better get this room done.”

Jamie nodded and pulled another tablecloth free.

Marge closed her eyes and grinned. She pictured her God. The one they all argued about. The one who surprised everyone. Maybe life wasn’t so dreary after all.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Live and Learn

Thelma stared at her daughter and wondered if perhaps aliens had abducted her child and sent a brainless bot in her stead. She crossed her arms over her chest knowing full well that it was a defensive posture. “So, you’re going to move in with Brad without even a promise ring? A hint of a proposal? Without asking me what I thought—”

Bea grimaced and leaned against the kitchen counter, her hands cupping a mug of hot coffee. She shook her head, took a tentative sip, and then met her mom’s gaze. “Oh, Lord, Mom. I’m a grown woman, for Heaven’s sake. Brad and I are both starting out, and we don’t want to hike across the city just to meet up on weekends. Besides, it’ll save on expenses, and that’s a good thing. You’ve always been the thrifty one. You should be proud of us for saving money, not tossing religious dogma at us.”

The ache that had started in her throat had now risen to Thelma’s eyes. She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation. Where was the girl who had extolled C. S. Lewis as a brilliant Christian thinker? Who argued the merits of sincere religious faith over vacuous feel-good reasoning? The kid who went to Mass faithfully each week and Holy Days of Obligation? The one who—

“Earth to Mom…”

“Don’t you believe in marriage…the sacrament…what it stands for?”

Bea pulled a kitchen chair away from the table and plunked down with a sigh. She took another sip—a longer one—closing her eyes in apparent savory pleasure. “This is good, Mom. What kind—?”

“Don’t change the subject. I asked a simple question.” The morning sunlight hit Bea’s golden hair, highlighting it like a halo over the girl’s head. Thelma closed her eyes against tears.

Exhaling—a patient teacher waiting for her stubborn student to catch on—Bea tapped her fingers on the table. “Sit and relax, Mom. You’re getting worked up over nothing.”

Resentment burned her tears away. Thelma plunked down across from her daughter, her back ramrod straight.

“You know I haven’t been going to church for years. I still believe most of the stuff you taught me. And I like what the faith says, but I have to find my own way. I’m my own person. Brad’s a good guy. I really like him, and he really likes me. Sex is a natural part of our relationship, and I don’t think God disapproves of our enjoying each other. We’re human. God knows that. He made us this way. Your hang-ups about sex and marriage are from a different era. A time when women had no rights apart from a man. I’m not that kind of woman. So let me enjoy my life, okay?”

Thelma didn’t even know where to begin. Nothing in her homeschooling manual had prepared her for this conversation. After all the years of Catechism and spiritual nourishment, how could things turn out like this? How could all her loving examples and heartfelt teaching be wiped so effortlessly away?

The sensation of drowning overwhelmed her. From the crucifix on the wall to the painting of Archangel Michael above the archway, she sought support…inspiration…hope of any kind. O, God, have I believed an illusion?

As she clasped her hands, her attention fell on the faded white skin around her ring finger. Ron had died two years ago, but she could still feel the symbol of their love. Her thumb pressed against the soft flesh. She peered at her daughter. “The day your dad proposed, he knelt on one knee and held out a gold ring, his hands shook so hard, I was afraid he’d drop it. He didn’t. But the ring wasn’t the important thing…his declaration of love and fidelity was.”

Bea leaned back, her eyes scrolling the kitchen ceiling as if begging patience from the white stucco.

Thelma leaned forward. “Marriage isn’t about a piece of paper or an ancient ritual. It’s about what human beings believe and are willing to sacrifice for. You’re right; God created us as sensual beings, and I’m sure He highly approves of a union based on love and respect. So much so that He wants us to treat our relationship with great honor.”

“Save the lecture, Mom. I’ve heard all this before. I’ve read the manual on marriage and the whole John Paul II Theology of the Body thing. I just don’t want to be tied down to rules. God is bigger than rules.”

A cloud swept in, obliterating the glorious rays of sunshine.

Thelma stood and poured herself a cup of coffee. She doused it with brown sugar and creamer and then leaned against the counter. “But, you, my dear, need rules. You’re not God. Neither is Brad. As it stands now, you two are simply using each other. And that works for a while. Until it doesn’t anymore. What about when one of you gets laid off…or sick…or bored? What if Brad sees another woman who’s more attractive to him? Or you find another man? What then?”

The line of Bea’s jaw hardened. “I know plenty of divorced Catholics. Their marriage vows didn’t save them.”

“But they should have. If they had lived marriage as it’s meant to be.”

Bea offered an exaggerated yawn. “The unbreakable union between God and His people…yadda…yadda…yadda. Yeah, I know. Sounds good. But, frankly, Mom, you’re not listening. I don’t care. I want to live with my boyfriend. I don’t need a long-term commitment. I just want convenient sex and a man I can rely on—”

Thelma’s jaw ached. “You’re not listening to yourself. You want someone to rely on without being honest about what it takes to depend on each other. Relationships are hard. They take work, sacrifice, and commitment.”

“Maybe for you. Not for me. I find relationships easy. Maybe that’s your problem, Mom. You ruin love by overthinking everything.”

The knife went deep, and Thelma knew she couldn’t pull it by herself. She set her cup on the counter and strode out of the kitchen. As soon as she was out the front door, she started walking toward the only answer she could depend upon.

It took nearly an hour to reach St. Bridget’s on foot, but she didn’t care. At least, she had stopped weeping long enough to wipe her eyes and enter the Adoration Chapel with a semblance of composure. An older man, probably in his 80’s, sat in a chair before the Monstrance, his hands clasped, his eyes closed. For a moment, Thelma wondered if he was awake. She couldn’t see his chest rising or falling. Oh, God, could he—?

The man opened his eyes and met her gaze. He blinked and grinned. “I concentrate better with my eyes closed.”

A blush rose over Thelma’s face. She bowed, made the sign of the cross, and then sat three seats away.

The man straightened and cleared his throat. “My granddaughter was supposed to be here today, but she broke her hand in a game yesterday. Stupid accident. I warned her, but the young never listen to the old. Think we’re fools and has-beens.”

Thelma nodded through a forced smile.

“Everyone’s got to make their own mistakes. Live and learn…then face God with the balance.” He sighed. “I didn’t listen to my grandpa either. Probably why I’m doing so much time in church now, eh?” He rubbed the small of his back. “Could you take the next hour till Judy comes?”

Thelma nodded. She hadn’t listened to her mom much either. Funny how that goes. She knelt down and bowed her head.

Later that night, Thelma dialed Bea’s number. She leaned against the counter and waited. When Bea answered, she knew that they wouldn’t talk about marriage, boyfriends, or God. There was only so much a mother could do. Even as she listened to a catalog of her daughter’s eventful day, the old man’s words rang in her ears: Live, learn, and face God with the balance.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00